The super team of world builder Max Brooks (“World War Z”), artist Shane Davis (“Superman: Earth One”), and master comics writer Mark Waid (“Kingdom Come,” “Superman: Birthright”) are back at San Diego Comic-Con, revealing some of the final details of their supernatural action comic, “Shadow Walk,” out this November from Legendary Entertainment (the comics arm of “Pacific Rim” studio Legendary Pictures). The story asks what if the Valley of the Shadow of Death was a physical place, one where something dangerous might be emerging. Into this plot, Waid, Brooks, and Davis toss in troubled hero John Raines, a soldier falsely accused of killing his own squad and now tasked with confronting very real demons.
With Legendary debuting the cover of the book today exclusively through MTV Geek, we thought we’d chat with the prolific Mr. Waid about world building with Max Brooks, his “Man of Steel” reaction, and the moral obligation of the writer when creating a hero.
MTV Geek: You’re heading out to the Con this week. What was your first Con like?
Mark Waid: The first show I ever went to was in Richmond. Tt was just one dealer and a professional—David Micheline, the first pro I ever met. And it just escalated from there.
But I’ve been going to San Diego off and on for 25 years and back when it started, it was in a hotel. So watching it grow into the superstructure that it is is kind of mind-boggling. It’s amazing.
What was your first con?
Geek: Uh, a tiny hotel in Tampa, FL. We were having a family reunion in the same hotel, and I was wandering around when I found this place with comics. But I was surprised that you had to pay money to get in.
Waid: And what did you buy that day? You must remember what you bought.
Geek: I only had enough money to get into the door, and I had to beg my grandmother for that.
Waid: Oh no! That’s co cruel! The good news is you’re in the candy store, the bad news is you’re broke. Aww.
Geek: It’s fun talking to you about fandom because you’re the dream story of a fan-turned-pro who still has that passion about the industry.
So much of what you do—so much of why I personally like your work—is that you take these long runs of comics and then synthesize their history into something new and great. Your “Daredevil” run paid homage to the character’s tortured past while still delivering “fun” stories with the character, for instance.
Waid: Why, thank you!
Geek: So when you approach something like “Shadow Walk,” or your own “Irredeemable,” is there a kind of catharsis in making your own thing, or building your own universe? Are you plotting with expansive worlds and all of that transmedia stuff in mind, or just starting with one story?
Waid: You can do all of the world-building you want, at the end of the day, what’s important is the heart and the drive of the story and the heart and the drive of the characters.
And that’s why “Shadow Walk” was the best of all worlds. It was Thomas Tull’s basic concept, and then Max Brooks did the world-building part. He did the sort of knitting together of history and real-time events as well as people who could be affected by this. He did a thick bible of mythology for the place that we’re dealing with.
And it was up to me to take a lot of raw information and create a throughline and characters in it—to give the data some sort of shape in the form of a story. So in this case, I didn’t have to do a lot of world-building, which left me free to concentrate on the emotions.
Geek: Having read some of his previous work, the world-building stuff is really where Brooks excels. What kinds of conversations where you two having on that front in terms of developing your characters and the plot? What was that collaboration like?
Waid: It freed me up to put some momentum behind it, but the conversations were great. If you ask him why something works this way or why the society is the way it is, he’ll generally have an answer. And if he doesn’t, he’ll find one because he’s just so damned smart—he’ll have a term paper for you by the end of the day. His research is impeccable and it’s fun to read. The beauty of it is he’s a storyteller and he doesn’t just overwhelm you with data. He’s an accomplished writer himself, so he knows what makes a good story, and what builds a good story.
Geek: And what is it about John Raines that makes you want to share this character with readers?
Waid: I think there’s a moral imperative when you’re writing fictional heroes to give characters who somehow give us something to aspire to as opposed to dragging them down to our level. I think these days, I’m more interested in writing characters who—they may not be perfect—but at the end of the day, I want them to learn something or persevere over something, that makes me want to do the same.
If that makes any sense.
Geek: No, it completely does.
Waid: I want them to be inspirational. And that’s what I like about Raines.
I read a book a few years ago called “The Survivor’s Club” and it took a look at survivors of crisis situations—plane crashes, bus crashes, and natural disasters—and it looked at what sort of commonality factors are there. Was it just luck or something else?
The conclusion that the writer reached that I found fascinating was the common thread was faith. Not necessarily “faith” in a religious sense, or people who went to church every Sunday. Instead, they believed that there was a world beyond them, and some sort of faith that they’re not alone in this world, not alone in this universe, and that they’re connected to something bigger. That’s the lifeline that they hold onto that helped them survive.
And Raines, going into this story, isn’t that guy. Raines is very clearly a man who has no faith, has no reason to believe in higher beings. And that’s the lesson that he learns in the Valley—the story’s about finding some sort of faith in something, even if it’s faith in the people around him.
Geek: And that brings me to your reaction to “Man of Steel,” which sort of mirrored my own reaction to the film, as well as some Superman fans’ online reactions to the movie given the way the character was portrayed.
We’re kind of at an interesting point where we’re talking about our heroes and what they mean to us and we have things like “MoS” and “The Lone Ranger” which seem almost embarrassed by the idea of having a heroic ideal or considers the idea of the hero as a corny, outdated thing. Where do you think that’s coming from? Why are we at this weird point where the idea of a hero is embarrassing—at least in pop culture?
Waid: I think that’s an interesting question, because the pendulum swing is something I’ve watched very closely over the last 12-13 years. Because very clearly after 9/11, I think the pendulum swung very heavily towards a celebration of heroism. What we saw before was a celebration of the first responders, the fireman, the policemen, and so on who dealt with 9/11. And moving out from there, on a general, philosophical level, we reached the realization that we could have faith in people.
And I think—this is going to be a real downer of an answer—I think the concept of fear and the way that fear invades our lives, not helped by the fact that the economy’s in the tank, not helped by the fact that Congress can’t move to get anything done, we’re feeling more and more that we’re helpless in the face of things that are beyond us. I see that installed in everybody, in the sense that everyone’s actions or reactions are motivated by a sense of fear or unease.
And when you get to a certain point of that in your life, you reach a point that heroism is a thing that you want to dismiss because it’s something you’re embarrassed about with yourself.
We’re at this tipping point where we no longer look at characters as inspiration or as heroic and aspirational because you want to play them down to your level, so that you don’t have to feel bad about yourself, or that you can’t achieve that level of heroism.
Geek: Do you feel you’ve been reactive to this at all in your own writing—either positively or negatively?
Waid: I think it’s very positively affected my writing. What I take from that, what I just said, is that I feel even stronger that it is our moral imperative that we write about heroic people doing heroic things. I am just tired of writing about heroes that we’re dragging down to our level, and I want to write about heroes that we want to be. And that’s what interests me as an author, and I think that that’s my big motivation as a writer and has been for the last couple of years.
“Shadow Walk” will be available from Legendary on November 27th.